A new era of Nebraska women’s golf starts this fall, as head coach Lisa Johnson begins her first season in Lincoln following a 12-year stint at Idaho.
Johnson — who is just the fourth head coach in Nebraska women’s golf history — takes the reins of the program from Robin Krapfl, who retired in May after 32 seasons as coach.
“Growing up, I’ve always known about the rich tradition of athletics at Nebraska because my parents’ best friends were Husker alums,” Johnson said. “I always thought I would love the opportunity to coach in a Power 5 conference and especially in the Big Ten. It’s a very strong golf conference, and it’s an exciting opportunity.”
During Johnson’s time at Idaho, the Vandals won two conference championships and made the NCAA Regionals three times. Six athletes made NCAA Regional appearances as individuals, including one individual NCAA Championship appearance in 2015. Johnson also was the Western Athletic Conference Coach of the Year in 2010 and 2012.
Johnson said her stint at Idaho will help her at Nebraska because it gave her experience coaching in a northern climate. That experience helped her understand how to train golf athletes in the winter and prepare them for the spring, which is when the majority of the season is.
The Huskers’ 2019 season begins on Sept. 9, when they travel to New Mexico for the Branch Law Firm/Dick McGuire Invitational. The event is one of four fall tournaments for the Huskers before the season resumes in February.
Nebraska returns every golfer from last year’s squad, which recorded a trio of top-three finishes and a win at the Westbrook Spring Invitational in late February for the program’s first event win since 2014. In addition to returning the whole team, the Huskers also add true freshman Leah Herzog.
Herzog comes to Lincoln after a successful high school career in which she earned four All-Big 9 conference selections and three Minnesota All-State selections. She was the Minnesota Class 2A runner-up as a senior and was the 2017 Minnesota Section Girls Junior PGA champion.
“Leah’s transitioned into the program very smoothly,” Johnson said. “She’s an extremely mature young woman, a talented player, and it’s a great opportunity for her to play in her freshman year among such seasoned veterans because she’ll learn a lot from them that will help her in future years here.”
Headlining the returnees are seniors Kate Smith and Haley Thiele and sophomore Vanessa Bouvet, who were all named Big Ten Women’s Golfers to Watch.
Smith has set the program record for stroke average in each of the past three seasons, most recently with a 73.52 average last season. She enters her final season with 13 career top-10 finishes, including two second-place finishes.
Thiele finished last season with a 76.93 stroke average, the fourth-best mark on the team. The fifth-year senior has five career top-25 finishes and one top-10 finish. In 2015, she tied what was then the school record for a 54-hole score, shooting a 209 at the UNLV Collegiate Showdown.
Bouvet posted the second-highest stroke average last season with a 75.79. She recorded three top-25 finishes and two top-10 finishes during her freshman season.
Johnson spoke highly of the trio, saying they helped her learn the minor nuances of the daily operation of the program and familiarized her with the area and golf courses.
“All three are very strong, talented players,” she said. “They work hard, they’re coachable, they really want to see Nebraska women’s golf continue on an upward trajectory, and I’m just excited to have them on the team and have the opportunity to coach them.”
Thiele said she played in a few events in June and July to get back into the swing of competition before the season begins. She won the Nebraska Women’s Amateur Championship for the second time in three seasons. She said she’s most confident in her short game as the season begins.
“I feel like I can get it up and down from a lot of places on the course,” she said. “Sometimes you have to stick a chip or wedge shot close even if you had a bad shot previously, so being able to hang with it and still find a way to make par with my short game has been a strength of mine for the past couple years.”
An area of her game Thiele is working on before the first tournament is ball striking on her irons.
“I need to dial those in a little bit more and be able to hit my midrange irons more solid,” she said. “I think if I can do that, I’ll be a lot more successful this year.”
Thiele said while there’s been a slight adjustment with the coaching change because each coach has different philosophies, most of the adjustments occur in practice. For example, she said the team is spending more time doing on-course practice in addition to various drills.
The roster stability has helped ease the transition under the new coach, and it has also helped foster team chemistry and provide valuable experience for the younger players.
“We had three or four girls last year who were freshmen or sophomores and they were consistently playing in the lineup,” Thiele said. “I think it will pay off for us this year because we have a lot of talent and with everybody coming back, I couldn’t be more excited to see what we can do this year and hopefully build on what we started last year.”